Tag Archives: Blooming Glen

“Where in the world?”: a glimpse into the work of a conference minister

by Sharon Williams

In the early 90s, a popular children’s television game show called “Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?” was broadcast on PBS. The show was based on a series of computer games designed to help viewers sharpen their geography skills.

In Franconia Conference, you could ask a similar question—“Where in the world is Steve Kriss?”—and in the process, learn many wonderful things about people and congregations of Franconia Conference. You’ll need a map of the east coast of the United States to trace Steve’s travels; geographical stretch, in Steve’s case, is an understatement.

Steve preaches often with the congregations the he serves alongside as LEADership minister. On February 22,  Steve preached twice in South Philly with Adrian Suryajaya who interpreted into Indonesian, first at Philadelphia Praise Center then at Indonesian Light Church. The congregations are about a half mile apart but reach different communities due to worship style and cultural backgrounds. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.
Steve preaches often with the congregations the he serves alongside as LEADership minister. On February 22, Steve preached twice in South Philly with Adrian Suryajaya who interpreted into Indonesian, first at Philadelphia Praise Center then at Indonesian Light Church. The congregations are about a half mile apart but reach different communities due to worship style and cultural backgrounds. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

Steve carries LEADership minister responsibilities for 12 congregations, located as far north as Vermont and as far south as Georgia. Currently, four of the congregations are in pastoral search processes, and another is working on a pastoral review. Steve’s goal is to nurture healthy relationships with all the congregations he walks alongside.

Next, watch for the locations of new congregations. Steve is often involved with helping them to launch their ministries and build connections in the conference and denomination.

“It’s a privilege to walk with them. I enjoy the energy and enthusiasm they bring to God’s work,” Steve says. Right now, Steve works with three new congregations emerging in South Philly.

Some of the congregations Steve works with are in the same area, such as the Lehigh Valley trio of Whitehall Mennonite Church, Ripple and Vietnamese Gospel Mennonite Church.

“Networking, creativity, and thinking outside the box are some of Steve’s greatest gifts,” says Rose Bender, pastor of the Whitehall congregation. “He’s always asking, ‘What might God be doing here? ‘How can we dream God’s vision?’ He sees the big picture and helps us make vital connections. Each conference staff person has a niche and expertise to offer us. These are the things our congregation appreciates about our relationship with Steve.”

At the new conference center on the campus of Christopher Dock Mennonite High School, Steve serves with the conference board’s ministerial committee as its staff person. This group guides the licensing and ordaining processes for new ministers and cares for credential transfers when ministers move in and out of the conference. The committee also provides continuing education for credentialed leaders. In this role, Steve also provides coordination among the LEADership ministers.

On the road again, Steve preaches usually twice a month around the conference, and handles all manner of inquiries about congregational leadership.

If you watch closely, you might find young adults and new pastors “on location” with Steve. Mentoring is an important part of cultivating leaders for the church. You will find him teaching in a classroom for Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s satellite classrooms in Philadelphia, Norristown, or Souderton. Sometimes his many travels double as field trips.

Look behind the scenes, too. As director of the conference’s communication team, Steve’s travels around the conference inform the planning and writing for Intersectings (the conference e-zine), Intersections (the newsletter), the conference’s website and other communication tools. The goal is to help make connections in the conference, and raise awareness of what is happening conference-wide.

In any given week, Steve may be found in enough places to highlight in a half-hour game show from Blooming Glen, Pennsylvania to Bridgewater Corners, Vermont or Sky Cafe in South Philly. But these travels mean more than that; they’re part of cultivating God’s dream in all of the places the people of Franconia conference live, work and worship.

Sharon K. Williams is a musician, editor and congregational/non-profit consultant. She serves the Lord with the Nueva Vida Norristown New Life congregation as minister of worship.

Thanking God for new offices, my Mac and Skype

by Stephen Kriss, director of leadership cultivation

transpacific interview
Steve, Mary, Aldo, and Verle Skype with Ubaldo for his credentialing interview.

In less than a decade, the Mennonite Conference Center has moved to its third location.   With increasingly dispersed staff, the Center has downsized to serve as a hub and back office for activity out and about.

My first day in the offices at Dock High School this week included crowding around my MacBook Pro with Verle Brubaker (Swamp) Mary Nitzsche (Blooming Glen), and Aldo Siahaan (Philadelphia Praise Center) for our first transpacific ordination interview by Skype.  We were interviewing Ubaldo Rodriguez, originally from Colombia, educated at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, who is now serving with SEND International in Manila, the Philippines.  Ubaldo is there to support and train mission workers from the 2/3rds world, hoping to build connections between Latin America and Asia.

Ubaldo is connected with a one of our partner congregations, New Hope Fellowship in Alexandria, VA, begun by Kirk Hanger after returning from a long term assignment with Franconia Mennonite Missions in Mexico City over a decade ago.   As a community, we keep being shaped and reshaped by our relationships and engagement in the world.  And now some of those connections are more easily sustained through technology like Skype, which we thanked God for in our interview.

Franconia Conference keeps changing and moving.  It’s not just our desks and cabinets, but it’s how we’re following the Spirit, paying attention to the pillar of fire that urges us to follow in the way of Jesus that moves us to be a part of God’s great redemption story in Souderton, Harleysville, Lansdale, Alexandria, Mexico City and Manila.

Blooming Glen holds annual harvest festival

by Lora Steiner, managing editor

Every year, members of Blooming Glen Mennonite Church throw a party. It’s got all the necessary elements of a good celebration: games, food, music, and plenty of neighbors joining in. And then there’s one part you wouldn’t expect: a Massey Ferguson combine harvester rolling through nearby fields, harvesting crops of corn and soybeans.

A combine was used to harvest crops during the festival, and the grain was deposited into a semi truck waiting in the parking lot. Photo by Philip Roth.
A combine was used to harvest crops during the festival, and the grain was deposited into a semi truck waiting in the parking lot. Photo by Philip Roth.

Blooming Glen first began planting its fields in 2002. The church owns 76 acres and about a third of that—25 acres—has been planted annually ever since. The grain is sold on the open market, and proceeds go towards a different project each year. Usually, it’s towards an agricultural project, like those run by Mennonite Central Committee.

Every year, church members harvest the crops around the end of October. And every year—the last Saturday in October—the congregation holds its annual harvest festival, an event open to anyone who wants to come.

One year profits from the harvest went to a non-denominational ministry in Minnesota supporting farmers in that state; another year, they took the grain to farmers in the Belleville, Pennsylvania area who were experiencing heavy drought. Another year, a portion of the proceeds went to Keystone Opportunity Center, a Souderton, Pennsylvania-based organization that aids homeless people. Two years ago when grain prices rose, they sent $20,000 to a Mennonite Disaster Service project in Ohio. This year, the going price has dropped so it won’t be as much, though it’s still nothing to sneeze at—as long as you don’t get too close to the semi in the parking lot where the combine is unloading the grain.

Children paint pumpkins, one of many activities and games kids could participate in. Photo by Philip Roth.
Children paint pumpkins, one of many activities and games at Blooming Glen’s harvest festival. Photo by Philip Roth.

At the festival, there are activities and games—no age limit is posted—that range from painting pumpkins, to throwing corn cobs through the painted mouth of a pig, to hayrides. One game has prizes—small wooden animals made with a jigsaw and painted. Bob Moyer, a member of the congregation, made 75 of them last year; this year, it went up to 100.

Members of the church say the event, like the fields, grows and changes a bit every year. Many people from Blooming Glen donate homemade chili and cookies, cider and apples. The young adult Sunday school class serves as treasurers. John Hockman and Paul Hockman, brothers who own Penn View Farm, take care of the planting, and father-and-son team John Kulp and Ryan Kulp of J & R Farms helped with the harvesting this year. The junior MYF group supervised the popcorn machine, while the senior MYF led games.

Robin Long, a member of Blooming Glen and also the congregation’s business manager, says one of her favorite things about the event is that it’s multi-generational and also “multi-initiative.”

“Not only are there people here from all ages,” she says, “There are people helping from all ages.”

Alexa Kennel, 13, stopped on her way to snag another cookie, says that when she was younger, she liked the games a lot. Now, her favorite part is seeing everyone in the church and catching up with them.

Long says the harvest festival is important for many reasons: Harvesting on the same day as the festival provides a visible reminder of where food comes from and the importance of farmland. It also brings together the local community.

“It’s the simple pleasures of food and play,” says Long. “And the fellowship. You can’t beat the fellowship.”

Passing the keys

by Ron Landes, Blooming Glen congregation

Ron Landes
Ron Landes

I knew that it was going to happen. I’ve seen it happen to others many times. I wasn’t really dreading it. But, even though they wouldn’t have to pry them from my “cold, dead hands,” I knew that the trustee set of building keys would have to pass from me to the next, newest member of the group. And so they did, with only the slightest bit of remorse, that of leaving something enjoyable and moving away from something that has been an important part of my life for the last 12 years.

I had grown quite used to having and using that motley collection of some six or seven door-lock openers. There were newer ones and older ones, usual and unusual ones. Differing shapes to fit the various locks found around our building. There was even one that no one was even sure of either use or origin; I carried it anyway. Somehow the keys came to me with a brass Goshen College tag attached to the key ring. I passed that on as well.

Even though these keys have an obvious physical function, that of accessing our church building, they took on a symbolic meaning for me. They represented my responsibility to our congregation in assisting in the task of maintaining our building as a place of comfort and security. I am humbled to see all those who work toward these goals that I believe enhance our worship together.

It has been both a privilege and a blessing to have served with all of the current and past trustees.

The set of keys and many new opportunities await Peter Giesbrecht as he joins the present group of trustees as the next, newest member. We ask God’s blessing on Peter, the ongoing work of caring for our meetinghouse, and on each member of our church family who passes through our unlocked doors each week.

Ron Landes is a member and former trustee of Blooming Glen Mennonite Church. He first shared this story in Glen News, the church’s newsletter. Reposted with permission.

Surprised by the call

by Phil Bergey, interim lead pastor at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church

My work as an executive coach and process consultant requires me to travel around the country as I work with church-related organizations from various denominations. I enjoy my work and was looking forward to doing more of it after having recently finished a Ph.D in human and organizational systems.

phil bergeyThen came a call I did not anticipate. My wife Evon and I have been members at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church for 20 years. This congregation helped raise our three children and has been a place of support for all of us. Firman Gingerich, our lead pastor, announced his resignation and he and his wife Susan’s plans to re-locate to Iowa to be closer to family. Blooming Glen’s congregational leadership board (CLB) wanted me to explore if there was any way I could serve as part-time interim lead pastor in the midst of my other work.

I was surprised: surprised by the call, surprised by my initial openness, surprised by my family’s encouragement, and surprised that after several conversations with my spiritual director I found myself seriously exploring the possibility.

Despite this surprise, being called to serve in ministry roles is not new for me. In 1978, I felt called to voluntary service with Mennonite Board of Missions to Stratford, Ontario. In 1984, I was called to congregational leadership at Franconia Mennonite Church, the congregation into which I was born. In 1988, I felt called to pursue training for Christian service and moved my family several times in order for me to study at Eastern Mennonite University, Goshen College, and Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS). In 1991, I was called to serve as a teaching elder at Assembly Mennonite Church in Goshen, Ind. In 1993, I was called to serve as conference coordinator and executive of Franconia Mennonite Conference, a role I served in for 14 years with the identity of a seminary-trained businessperson rather than as a pastor.

So why was I surprised by this call to serve as part-time interim lead pastor at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church? I am still puzzling over this, but I suspect it has something to do with growing up in the midst of our family business, Bergey’s Electric. I watched as my parents and siblings integrated ministry into their everyday work. I did not grow up with a dichotomy between church and work although the intersection of the two remains a lifetime fascination. (At AMBS, my master’s thesis was titled “What has Wall Street to do with Jerusalem.”) Work settings are just another way to interact—and minister—with people around us. Ministry happens when we are open to being used by God wherever we are called.

Over the past few months I have realized one more surprise. My dissertation focused on the question: How do Mennonite pastors describe their role in leading planned organizational change? At the time it seemed expedient to focus on a group I knew well and could easily work with to conduct my research. I figured the learnings would be useful in my work coaching pastors and other religious leaders. In retrospect, God was planning yet another surprise.

So I look forward to putting my theoretical learning to use in the ministry opportunity of pastoring a congregation through a time of leadership transition. I am honored to do this with a wonderful pastoral team and many committed volunteer leaders. This reality tempers my fears as I realize that ministry is a community calling when that community is open to God’s leading. To this end I find comforting the words of Jesus when he said to his disciples in John 16:12-14:

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Three congregations credential new leaders on Pentecost

by Sheldon C. Good

Many Christian congregations commemorate the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday, and three Franconia Conference congregations in particular acknowledged the Spirit’s movement through the credentialing of leaders for ministry.

On June 8, all occurring in southeastern Pennsylvania, Donna Merow was ordained and Danilo Sanchez and Phil Bergey were licensed for ministry. Their credentialing brings the number of credentialed leaders in the conference to approximately 160 men and women serving in at least seven states and four countries.

Merow was ordained for pastoral ministry at the Ambler congregation, where she has pastored for more than four years. LEAD minister Jenifer Eriksen Morales led Merow’s credentialing. Merow chose to be ordained on Pentecost Sunday after discovering she was confirmed in the United Methodist church on Pentecost 40 years prior.

Donna Merow's ordination
LEADership Minister Jenifer Eriksen Morales and members of the congregation pray at the ordination of Donna Merow (seated center), pastor of Ambler Mennonite Church. Photo by Andrew Huth.

“The 40-year journey from one public confession of faith to another,” Merow said, “has been a significant one for me — including marriage and becoming a mother and grandmother, completing college and graduate work, worshipping in multiple traditions other than the one in which I grew up, and facing the challenges of breast cancer and kidney disease.”

Merow was only 12 when the possibility of religious vocation was first suggested to her. Between now and then, she “worked at a church camp, dropped out of college, cared for blind students, got married, and raised two daughters.” She has also been an active participant in churches from several denominations: Methodist, Baptist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and Mennonite.

She described her credentialing ceremony as “an outward acknowledgement of an inward change in identity as I became a pastor in the process of practicing pastoral care.”

Sanchez was licensed for youth ministry among multiple Anabaptist congregations in and around Allentown. LEAD minister Steve Kriss led the credentialing. Sanchez is primarily working with Whitehall and Ripple, both Franconia congregations, by leading music or teaching children, but is also working alongside Karen Fellowship (independent), Iglesia Menonita Evangelica Restoracion (Lancaster Conference), Christ Fellowship (Eastern District Conference), and Vietnamese Gospel (Franconia Conference).

Sanchez said his licensing felt like an important personal and professional step because many people and institutions, including Franconia Conference and Whitehall, “are recognizing my gifts and willing to walk alongside me as a pastor.” Sanchez, grew up in the Boyertown congregation and has interned with both Souderton congregation and Philadelphia Praise Center while a student at Eastern University. He graduated from Eastern Mennonite Seminary last year with a Master of Divinity degree.

Members of Whitehall Mennonite Church pray over Danilo Sanchez
Members of Whitehall Mennonite Church pray over Danilo Sanchez. Photo by Patti Connolly.

“I finally feel like a pastor,” he said. “I am so honored that God has called me to be a leader. I’m thankful for the ways that Whitehall and Ripple will shape me into the leader God has called me to be.”

Bergey was licensed as interim lead pastor of the Blooming Glen congregation, where he has been a member for about 20 years. Ertell Whigham, executive minister of Franconia Conference, led the credentialing. Bergey is former conference executive of Franconia Mennonite Conference.

In the wake of Firman Gingerich’s resignation as Blooming Glen’s lead pastor, the congregation’s board invited Bergey to assume a part-time interim lead pastorate. The congregation is searching for a long-term pastor.

Phil Bergey
Phil Bergey, interim lead pastor of Blooming Glen.

Bergey preached the morning of his licensing, focusing on the story of Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 12. He framed the commencement of his pastoral leadership and the pastoral search processes not as the beginning of a journey but the continuation of a journey. That journey, he said, includes the history of the Blooming Glen congregation, the Anabaptist tradition, and the Christian church, going all the way back to Abraham and Sarah.

Bergey said: “Blooming Glen, like other congregations, has been through pastoral transitions before; it is simply part of a congregation’s life together. And pastoral transitions are especially true for a congregation that is approaching 300 years of age.”

Kenneth Hochstetler named as next president of Everence

The Everence board of directors has named Kenneth D. Hochstetler as the organization’s next president and CEO. Hochstetler will assume the role upon the retirement of President and CEO Larry D. Miller at the end of August.

Kenneth HochstetlerHochstetler currently serves as senior executive vice president at Univest Corporation, which provides a wide range of banking, trust, financial planning, investment, foundation and insurance services through a network of approximately 40 offices in southeastern Pennsylvania.

“Ken will bring deep and broad experience in the many services of a financial organization,” said D. Duane Oswald, Everence board chair. “He has over two decades of management and executive leadership experience in banking, insurance and investments.”

“He is strongly committed to the church and is actively involved in the Anabaptist faith community,” said Pat Swartzendruber, chair of the Presidential Succession Committee and Everence board member. “He has contributed volunteer service to many local and national nonprofits, demonstrating his strong sense of call to serve the church and community.”

“I am grateful for the opportunity to use my experience gained in private industry for the good of the stewardship organization serving the Mennonite and Anabaptist faith community,” said Hochstetler. “I look forward to joining the Everence team in helping members integrate their faith and values into financial decisions.”

Hochstetler joined Univest in 1992, and currently serves as chief executive of the following Univest subsidiaries: investments, advisory services, foundation, municipal pension services and wealth management services. He previously worked at Meridian Bank in eastern Pennsylvania.

Hochstetler holds a bachelor’s degree in business and computer science from Goshen College and a master’s degree in business administration from Lehigh University.

He attends Blooming Glen Mennonite Church, where he serves as chair of its congregational leadership board. He is on the board of directors of Goshen College, co-chair of the Campaign Leadership Council of the North Penn Commons, chair of the Souderton Industrial Development Authority and a long-term planning committee member of the Bucks-Mont Coalition for Evangelism.

Hochstetler’s appointment was approved by the Everence board as well as by the executive committee of Mennonite Church USA’s executive board. Everence is the stewardship agency of Mennonite Church USA.

Founded in 1945, Everence will celebrate its 70th anniversary in 2015. The organization serves approximately 80,000 members and manages $2.4 billion in assets (as of Dec. 31, 2013). Everence helps individuals, organizations and congregations integrate finances with faith through a national team of advisors and representatives. Everence offers banking, insurance, and financial services with community benefits and stewardship education. Everence is a ministry of Mennonite Church USA and other churches. To learn more, visit www.everence.com or call 800-348-7468.

Worship event to foster connection among youth

by Sheldon C. Good

Luke Hartman
Luke Hartman will be the guest speaker at the June 1 youth worship event. Photo by Lindsey Kolb/Eastern Mennonite University.

HARLEYSVILLE, Pa. – Franconia and Eastern District Conferences are hosting junior and senior high youth this June at an event that will feature elements very similar to the biennial Mennonite Church USA youth convention, but with one key difference – it’s outside.

The worship event, cosponsored by the Mennonite Heritage Center, will be held from 12-3pm on June 1 on the lawn of 569 Yoder Road, Harleysville, a campus shared by the Mennonite Heritage Center and the Conference offices.  The rain location is Christopher Dock Mennonite High School’s auditorium (Lansdale, Pa.).

After eating lunch together at noon, potentially hundreds of youth will spread out on the lawn for free time and then worship featuring Luke Hartman, vice president of admissions at Eastern Mennonite University (Harrisonburg, Va.), as the main speaker. Hartman’s message will focus on John 17’s call to unity in the body of Christ. He will collaborate with his good friend Peder Eide, a popular musician and worship leader in the Lutheran Church.

Additional music will be provided by Susquehanna, a band of students from Christopher Dock. Band members are John Bergstresser, Ryan Moyer, Austin Kratz, Brooks Inciardi, Simon Nam, Derek Reeser, and Ethan Neal.

John Stoltzfus, conference youth pastor and one of the event planners, anticipates that the event will invite youth to consider “what God is doing among us and who God is calling us to be together.”

He said there are several goals for the event: to provide opportunity for deepening relationships and fellowship among youth across conference churches; to give space for youth to engage in inspiring worship and experience renewal in their relationships with God and one another; and to offer a witness to the surrounding community of the church’s call to be a united people of God.

Mike Ford, associate pastor of youth at Blooming Glen (Pa.) congregation, has also been integrally involved in the event’s planning. He hopes that “youth leave challenged and encouraged spiritually, and that they also experience a healthy dose of fun and fellowship.”

The gathering is part of an ongoing commitment in Franconia Conference to help individuals and congregations connect, says Ertell Whigham, Franconia’s executive minister.  “While it’s true that it takes little or no effort for us to find opportunities to disagree, it takes a greater commitment to reach out across our diversity and connect in ways that express the kingdom of God,” he reflects.  He encourages congregations to keep this event in prayer, as youth gather to worship, play, grow, and share a meal together in Christ.

“Now that’s a very cool way to connect,” he says.

Paul Lederach: A Spiritual Oak on our Horizon

Paul Lederach
Paul Lederach joins in discernment with the conference community at the 2013 Conference Assembly this past November. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

by John Ruth, Salford congregation

The passing of  Paul Mensch Lederach (1925-2014) on Monday morning, January 6, brings to an earthly close one of the most admirable, valuable and lengthy life-stories in the three-century history of the Franconia Mennonite Conference.  Not only Paul’s wife Mary (Slagell) and their children and grandchildren, but the Dock retirement community, the conference, and the Mennonite Church USA are now saying farewell to a far-reaching presence and influence.

Born as the oldest living child of a young mission-worker couple in Norristown, Paul grew up in an epicenter of Mennonite life, whose themes captivated his soul.  Ordained a minister by the casting of lots when only halfway through his years at Goshen College, the tall, handsome nineteen-year-old could electrify a traditional Mennonite audience.  The respect the aging bishops had for this newcomer was such that only five years later, when he was 24, and a graduate of a Baptist seminary, they could endorse him in the office of bishop.  I myself, at the age of 20, was ordained by the laying on of his hands at Norristown in August of 1950.

Paul’s completion of a doctoral degree in Christian Education had led immediately to a call to work in that field at the Mennonite Publishing House in Scottdale, PA. This was another epicenter, this time of the wider church.  But his second ordination called him back home, where the bishops asked him to help the Blooming Glen congregation through its recovery from the loss of members to the recently born “Calvary Mennonite” (later independent “Calvary”) church.  One of his tasks in this role, he found, was to persuade members to remove wedding rings.  Many years later he would observe that he had never seen a decade without major debate in the church on one issue or another.

But the wider Mennonite Church renewed its call for Paul’s exceptional training and gifts, with the result that shortly before marrying Oklahoma-born schoolteacher Mary, he returned to Scottdale.  There too he would serve as a bishop in the Allegheny Conference, while supervising the Christian Education work of our entire denomination.  For a quarter century, with four children growing up in Scottdale, Paul’s name was increasingly synonymous with curricular themes and projects in not only our own churches, but those of related denominations.

Some twenty-plus titles from Paul’s pen are still available on Amazon.com.  One with which every member of our Conference should be familiar is his little classic of 1980, A Third Way.  Written at the close of his Scottdale career, it placed in simple language the key insights and convictions of the Mennonite faith tradition and shows how deeply Paul, no follower of fads, was rooted in scripture.  The breadth of this biblical orientation became overwhelmingly evident in his commentary on the book of Daniel, now spread to over 500 libraries nationwide and beyond.

Though not narrow in mentality, Paul represented insight into the reasons for being the kind of Christians implicit in our tradition.  When a respected sister in our conference began to wear a cross necklace, describing it as a spiritual ornament, he asked, “Would you wear an electric chair?”  When in 1995 at a historic and somewhat tense meeting in Wichita, Kansas, the Mennonite Church and General Conference jointly accepted our groundbreaking “Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective,” Paul soberly counseled, just before the vote was taken, against a demonstrative, triumphant response that would insult those who in good conscience voted negatively.

In his return to the Franconia Conference area Paul not only served as an appreciated elder statesman, but poured his talents into a sequence of pastoral interims and major historical writings.  A quarter-century later he was still growing spiritually, confessing that his mind was  changing under the influence of the Gospel he loved.  And, on the day before his sudden final illness, he was back at Norristown, encouraging a plan to support the congregation into which he had been born 88 years before.  His legacy will continue initiating and steadying our life as a Christian fellowship.

Paul Lederach passed away on Monday, January 6.  Relatives and friends may call after 1:30 p.m., Saturday, January 11, 2014 at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church, 713 Blooming Glen Road, Blooming Glen, PA 18911. A Memorial Service will follow at 3:00 p.m. Interment will be in the church columbarium.

Franconia Conference gathers to celebrate, pray, confer, listen

Garden Chapel Children's Choir
Garden Chapel’s children’s choir led a rousing rendition of “Our God” at Conference Assembly 2013. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

Franconia Conference delegates and leaders gathered November 2 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa. to celebrate God still at work.   With a packed auditorium for a third united assembly with Eastern District Conference, representatives gathered to listen and pray, to celebrate newly credentialed and ordained pastoral leaders, and to work alongside one another after an over 150-year rift created two separate Mennonite entities.  The theme “God still @ work” was an extension of the 2012 theme, “God @ work.”

With singing in Indonesian, Spanish, and English led by Samantha Lioi (Peace and Justice Minister for both conferences) and Bobby Wibowo (Philadelphia Praise Center) and translation into Franconia Conference’s worshipping languages, delegates and representatives from nearly all of the Conference’s congregations from Georgia to Vermont gathered to confer around a board-crafted statement on the Conference’s increasing diversity in ethnicity, experiences, faith practice, and expression.   The gathering was punctuated with points of celebration including testimony from Peaceful Living led by Joe Landis and Louis Cowell from Salford congregation, a youth choir from the revitalizing Garden Chapel in Victory Gardens, NJ, and a moment to mark the upcoming November retirement of Franconia Conference Pastor of Ministerial Leadership Noah Kolb after 45 years of ministry, which was met with rousing applause and a standing ovation.

Noah blessing 2013
Noah Kolb was recognized and blessed for 45 years of ministry. He will retire in November. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

In a shortened one-day event, delegates spent the morning together around tables with Eastern District Conference to continue to deepen relationships across conference lines.  Business sessions were separate, and Franconia’s included a significant amount of time in conversations among table groups, conferring over the board statement and then reporting on those conversations to the whole body.  Delegates and representatives were encouraged to mix across congregational lines to better hear and experience the diversity of conference relationships.

For many, including Tami Good, Souderton (Pa.) congregation’s Pastor of Music & Worship, who was attending Conference Assembly for the first time, the table conversations were holy spaces.  Each person at her table was from a different congregation.   “I saw God at work in the gracious listening, especially in the time when we talked about the conferring statement,” Good reflected. “There were disagreements, but everyone was graciously listening and hearing.  Everyone actually wanted to hear each other.  It was a beautiful time.”

The conferring time, along with an afternoon workshop led by the Franconia Conference board, focused on prayer and visioning for the Conference into the future.   Conference board members Jim Longacre (Bally congregation), Rina Rampogu (Plains congregation), Jim Laverty (Souderton congregation), and Klaudia Smucker (Bally congregation) served as a listening committee for the daylong event.  They reported seven themes of consistent and continued conversation: engagement, diversity, shared convictions, authority, polity, the role of conference, and the reality of changing relationships and engagement.  Board members noted that there is much response work to do to continue the conversation and discernment process.

Bruce Eglinton-Woods, pastor of Salem congregation (Quakertown, Pa.), said, “The challenge is speaking clearly on what we believe and where we are at, which is often a challenge for Mennonite leaders. My hope and prayer is that we can trust God and release the idea of keeping it all together. We need to let God do the holding together.”

Franconia Conference delegates spent time conferring and praying together.  Photo by Bam Tribuwono.
Franconia Conference delegates spent time conferring and praying together. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

According to Rampogu, one of the longest standing Conference board members, “the hardest part about this kind of meeting is that there isn’t enough time. We want to share and to talk together,” she said.  “That is a positive sign.  People want to connect.  My hope and prayer is that we keep our goal in mind, keeping our mission focused on equipping leaders to empower others to embrace God’s mission, with Christ in the center and churches focused on missional activity.”

In business sessions, delegates selected a number of positions by 97% affirmation including a 2nd term for conference moderator John Goshow (Blooming Glen congregation) along with board member Beny Krisbianto (Nations Worship Center), as well as ministerial and credentialing committee members Rose Bender (Whitehall congregation), Ken Burkholder (Deep Run East congregation), Mike Clemmer (Towamencin congregation) and Chris Nickels (Spring Mount congregation).   Randy Nyce (Salford congregation) who is completing a term as finance committee chair and board member reported on Conference finances, noting an 11% decrease in financial contributions from congregations.

“I was surprised and pleased that the attendance at Assembly 2013 was so strong; seeing the room filled to capacity was an affirmation of how much the delegates and guests in attendance care for our conference,” Goshow noted.  “Franconia Conference is all of us who are members of our 42 churches and our Conference Related Ministries.  It is my hope and prayer that together we chart a course that will advance God’s Kingdom in exciting and wonderful ways.”

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Conference Assembly 2013 Highlight Video from Franconia Conference on Vimeo.